RLPB 484. Iran & China: Herod’s Choice
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 484 | Wed 19 Dec 2018
IRAN & CHINA: HEROD’S CHOICE
— Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
Born in hardship and forged in the flames of persecution, there can be no doubt that the burgeoning Persian and Chinese Churches will have significant and strategic roles in the spread of Christianity through the 21st Century and beyond. Today, however, the spiritual battle is fierce as Satan resists his demise with ‘the energy of despair’ (Jacques Ellul). The outcome, however, is not in doubt, for victory was secured on the Cross. As Christ builds his Church and as God fulfils his promises to bless the nations and fill them with his glory, the need of the day is that the persecuted church be supported in prayer.
IRAN: PRE-CHRISTMAS CRACKDOWN
More than 140 Iranian believers have been arrested in the lead up to the Christmas season — 114 in the first week of December alone. Raids have occurred in at least ten cities, targeting a variety of Christian groups. Whilst most of those arrested were released after hours or, in some cases, days of interrogation, those suspected of being leaders remain in detention. All those arrested had their mobile devices confiscated and were ordered to cease contact with Christian groups. Arrested in Ahvaz on 2 December, sisters Shima and Shokoofeh Zanganeh (aged 27 and 30 respectively) were physically assaulted during interrogation, before being transferred to Sepidar Prison. The whereabouts and condition of other prisoners remain unknown. Regime-backed media reported the unsubstantiated claim that some of those arrested were foreign nationals who had taken Iranian names. A rumour such as this is doubtless designed to further the regime’s false narrative that Christianity is a tool of hostile foreign powers intent on subverting the state. But, like Chinese Christianity, Persian Christianity is an indigenous movement growing uncontrollably in the virtual absence of foreign missionaries. Linked to the revival in Persian culture (as distinct from Islamic or revolutionary culture), the Persian Church is growing despite all regime efforts to suppress it.
CHINA: CRACKDOWN IS JUST BEGINNING
The leader of Chengdu’s Early Rain Covenant Church, Pastor Wang Yi – arrested on the evening of Sunday 9 December [see RLPB 483 (12 Dec)] – is being held in criminal detention without access to family, friends or a lawyer; he has been charged with inciting subversion of state power. His wife, Jiang Rong, is being kept in solitary confinement in ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’. The couple’s 11-year-old son is with his grandmother, Chen Yaxue (73). Several other church leaders have also been charged with criminal offences. Some 47 students taken from the dormitories of Covenant Seminary were fingerprinted and detained at the nearby Xinjin County Legal Learning Centre (believed to be a re-education facility) before being deported to their hometowns.
Since the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) new Religious Affairs Regulations came into effect on 1 Feb 2018, persecution has escalated to levels unseen in decades. That said, President Xi’s crackdown has only just begun. On Thursday 13 December police raided a gathering of a house church in Sanmenxia, Henan, and arrested three ministers. On Saturday 15 December — in what is without doubt the CCP’s most brazen act to date — police raided a children’s Bible class in Rongguili Church in Guangzhou’s Yuexiu district, confiscating property and more than 4000 books. Previously, the church had been all but untouchable because of its fame and size. Founded in 1978 by ‘house church father’ Pastor Samuel Lamb (1924-2013), Rongguili Church attracts up to 5000 worshippers a week. Today, entry points to the church have been cordoned off and all its activities suspended.
Two thousand years ago, Magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem seeking ‘the one who has been born king of the Jews’. Disturbed by this news, King Herod summoned his chief priests and teachers of the law, who confirmed to him from scripture that the Christ (Messiah) would be born in Bethlehem. Herod had a decision to make. Reasoning ‘if he is king then I am not’, Herod made the fateful choice many autonomous people make: he rejected Christ. He also made the choice many powerful ‘kings’ make: he chose violence [Matthew 2]. Herod died, but Jesus lives! [Matthew 28]. Like Herod, the Iranian regime and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have heard God’s word and chosen violence as if through it they will annul divine revelation and cancel divine promise. Like Herod, they are wrong! Their days are numbered; they will die, but Christ will live and ‘all the promises of God find their Yes in him’ (2 Corinthians 1:20 ESV).
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO
* bless and sustain Iran’s persecuted Church and especially those in prison on account of their faith.
Pray especially at this time for the severely persecuted Ebrahim Firouzi (32) who is incarcerated with violent criminals and terrorists in the maximum security Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj [see RLPB 416 (26 July 2017)]. Firouzi’s ailing mother, Kobra Kamrani (56), died on 3 December. After refusing all requests to permit mother and son to meet one last time, the authorities then also refused to grant Firouzi leave to attend his mother’s funeral, thereby compounding his grief. Lord have mercy.
‘But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.’ (Psalm 3:3 ESV)
* bless and sustain China’s persecuted Church and especially those in prison on account of their faith. Pray especially at this time for Pastor Wang Yi and the severely persecuted Gao Zhisheng
* grace the Persian and Chinese Churches with faith to stand firm; grace in abundance, and divine wisdom to know how to navigate these increasingly difficult days.
‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.’ (James 1:5 ESV)
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
Two thousand years ago, Magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem seeking ‘the one who has been born king of the Jews’. Disturbed, King Herod summoned his religious advisers who confirmed from scripture that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. Reasoning ‘if he is king then I am not’, Herod made his fateful choice: rejecting Christ, he chose violence. Like Herod, the Iranian regime and the Chinese Communist Party have heard God’s word and chosen violence, breaking up house churches and arresting hundreds in major pre-Christmas crackdowns. Like Herod, they think their violence will annul divine revelation and cancel divine promise. Like Herod, they are wrong! Please pray for Iran and China and the Persian and Chinese Churches this Christmas, particularly those who are in prison because of their faith.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).